The NFL has to change their overtime rules. Here’s how.

By Alex Weinstein

As a roller coaster of an NFL season comes to a close, there are still a few lingering questions heading into the offseason. Where will Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson be playing next season? Is Aaron Donald going to retire? Are we sure Tom Brady is done with football? Was 50 Cent really a necessary part of the Super Bowl halftime show? All of these questions certainly pique our interest. However, one thing has still been on our minds since the topic became hotter than whatever Snoop Dogg once dropped: Overtime rules. 

Let’s flashback to the instant classic between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs a few weeks ago that catalyzed the firestorm regarding the existing NFL overtime rules. Arrowhead Stadium is electric as fans witness a game that is nothing short of cinematic. It’s the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs, and the two star-studded teams are going back and forth, each team making one mind-blowing play after another. Following an incredible last-second field goal from the Chiefs, the game goes to an extra period. Overtime. Despite fans on the edges of their seats for the entirety of the game, the overtime period was everything short of showstopping. The Chiefs won the coin toss, drove right down the field on an exhausted Bills defense and scored the game-winning touchdown. Kansas City essentially won on the flip of a coin.

The NFL showcases the highest level of play in football. Teams are stacked with incredibly talented players and are often evenly matched, resulting in a plethora of overtimes. Since overtime was implemented in the league in 1974, 574 games have been decided in overtime, according to NFL Football Operations. Ironically, the best teams in the world have to play with some of the worst existing overtime rules. The highly anticipated AFC Divisional game between the Bills and the Chiefs was a prime example of why these rules need to change. 

The game was an all-out battle, each side led by superstar quarterbacks: Josh Allen of the Bills and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. The two football aliens were excellent as both offenses went nuclear in the fourth quarter. 25 total points were scored in the final two minutes of regulation, and the neck-and-neck contest seemed just about over when Allen hit wide receiver Gabriel Davis for a huge touchdown to put the Bills up 3633 with 13 seconds left. 

But as the great Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”. 

In what felt like a blink of an eye, Mahomes connected with wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce to get the ball within field goal range. Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker nailed the 49-yard field goal to tie the game, meaning Mahomes and Allen were to settle the score in OT.

To start off overtime, there’s a coin toss. The winner of the coin toss gets to choose to either kick or receive the ball first. If the first team to receive the kickoff scores a touchdown, they win. The other team never gets a chance to touch the ball. If the team who gets the ball first manages only a field goal or can’t score at all, the other team gets a chance to score. Due to the format, the team that wins the coin toss almost always chooses to receive. 

Here’s the problem: In a game between two offensive powerhouses, the team that wins the coin toss almost always wins the game. In fact, according to ESPN, NFL teams that have won the toss under these rules in the playoffs have a 10–2 record (83.3%). One-sided? I’d say so.  

And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a huge game decided by a coin flip. In Super Bowl LI, the Patriots beat the Falcons after scoring a touchdown on the first drive in overtime. Now, did the Falcons blow a 28–3 lead and undergo a catastrophic meltdown that has since defined their franchise? Yes. But the Falcons didn’t get to touch the ball once after regulation. Football games should be won by the best team, not by the team that wins a coin toss, and this can’t happen if both teams don’t get the chance with the ball. 

The NCAA features rules that are far more fair and equitable. Similarly to the NFL, the team that starts with the ball is determined by a coin flip. However, the ball starts on the opposing 25-yard line. Each overtime period consists of one offensive and one defensive possession for each team, so each team has equal opportunity to score. If a second overtime period is needed, teams are forced to go for a 2-point conversion after each touchdown instead of a field goal in order to make scoring harder. If the game is still tied and it goes to a third overtime period, teams alternate going for 2-point attempts instead of drives from the 25.

In a battle that was so hard-fought, it’s pathetic and futile for the fate of the Bills to be determined by something entirely based on luck. That being said, all credit to the Chiefs. They played phenomenally and absolutely deserved their birth in the AFC Championship.

Senior and Bills fan Ryan Morris was frustrated and disappointed at the result of the game.

“This was probably one of the best games I’ve ever seen, and it sucks that it’s always going to be soured by the ending,” Morris said. “We were up with 13 seconds left, so we never should’ve let the game get to that point in the first place. But as soon as we lost the overtime coin toss, I knew it was over.”

Morris believes that the “completely unfair” system needs to change. 

“The rule is terrible; the NFL should follow college rules or something similar,” he said. “You can’t have the losing team never touch the football.”

Proponents of the existing NFL system argue that football is just as much about defense as it is about offense, and therefore the better team should be able to stop their opponent should they lose the coin toss. That’s a totally valid take. In fact, this year’s AFC Championship went to overtime, which saw the Chiefs lose despite getting the ball first because of a fantastic interception by Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III. The Bengals drove down the field and drilled a walk-off field goal to clinch a berth in Super Bowl LVI. Also, overtime games that are played with the college rules may end up like a 2018 game between LSU and Texas A&M that went to seven overtimes. This could push back the start time of following games that day and over-exhaust players. For a regular season game, this problem could provide good reason not to implement college rules. However, a playoff game is win-or-go-home. For this reason, games going extremely long are appropriate and justified.

Junior Luke Kullback supports the current rules.

“There are 60 minutes of football before overtime. That is more than enough time for the better team to win,” Kullback said. “Because of that, it makes sense to make overtime quick and intense, rather than drag out a game.”

Plus, since the coin flip is 50/50, it gives each team an equal chance of getting the ball. However, despite being fair, it leaves the result of an intense and competitive game up to chance, which is not the way sports should work. If the rules were fair, there would not be an over 83% chance of one team winning based on 50/50 luck; the win percentage should be closer to 50%. 

What’s most ironic about the turnout of this game is that Mahomes and the Chiefs faced an extremely similar situation just three years ago. In 2019, the Chiefs faced the Patriots in the AFC Championship. The game went to overtime, the Patriots won the coin toss and scored their first offensive possession to send them to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs never got the ball. After the game, the Chiefs proposed a rule that would give both teams a chance on offense in overtime, but the NFL declined. 

The NFL should implement similar overtime rules as college for the playoffs, but regular season games should stick to the rules already in place. A Week 3 game between the Falcons and Giants has far less at stake then a Bills-Chiefs playoff game. One potential tweak for the NFL’s take on the rules could be teams starting further back on the field than in college games, perhaps on their own 25 instead of expediting them to their opponent’s 25. NFL offenses are so good nowadays — most of them, at least — that they could easily go back and forth and score every time. The same scoring rules but with teams having more ground to cover would help important playoff games be much fairer. While no system is perfect, teams like the Bills deserve so much more than to have their season end based on a tiny silver circle.